veryday LifeKozol’s Amazing Grace: Trials and Tribulations of Everyday LifeIntroductionJonathan Kozol’s Amazing Grace is a book about the trials andtribulations of everyday life for a group of children who live in the poorestcongressional district of the United States, the South Bronx. Their lives mayseem extraordinary to us, but to them, they are just as normal as everyone else.What is normal? For the children of the South Bronx, living with the pollution,the sickness, the drugs, and the violence is the only way of life many of themhave ever known.
In this book, the children speak openly and honestly about feeling abandoned’, hidden’ or forgotten’ by our nation, one that is blind to theirproblems. Studying the people themselves would only get us so far inunderstanding what their community is really like and why they feel this way.Jonathan Kozol really got to know the people individually. We can take hisknowledge and stories to try for a better understanding of the environment inwhich they live.
By doing this, we can explore the many reasons why the peoplehave problems, what some levels of intervention could be, and possibly find somesolutions to making the South Bronx a healthier and safer place for thesechildren and others to live.Problem IdentificationThe environment in which we study these people can only be defined byfirst taking a look at possible reasons why the people have problems. Some ofthe problems discussed in Amazing Grace have festered throughout the UnitedStates for some time now. The high numbers of drug users in the community, thehigh amounts of gang-related violence, and the numerous cases of people who havecontracted the AIDS virus are just some of the problems that have arisen in thisghetto. There are many differences between this community and others in theUnited States, one of which is that the government has grouped these people alltogether and made a ghetto of the lowest income families. This has ostracizedthem from the rest of the nation. It has given them many abandonment issues todeal with, while also telling them they are not worthy of living among thewealthier population.
Environmental factors are involved in the problems arising in the SouthBronx. Pollution, for example, could be the biggest source of the high numberof children in the community who have asthma. Asthma is a condition in whichone has trouble breathing. Without clean air, breathing for an asthmatic isalmost impossible. A waste burner in the middle of the South Bronx causes a lotof pollution and makes the air the people breath, below safe levels ofcleanliness. Another environmental factor that affects the resident’s healthshas to do with how most of the buildings in these neighborhoods are run down andinfested with rats.
Many of the buildings have no working elevators. Thiscauses people to have to walk several flights of stairs each time they want toleave their apartments. This is very time consuming and tiresome. Then, whenthey find that there is so much violence and drugs in the street, that it is notsafe to be out there anyway, they usually end up staying in their apartments formost of their free time.The cultural differences between these people and others of higherincome communities is also a reason why they may have problems. Racism is veryobvious to the people of the South Bronx, especially when they go outside oftheir district. If a woman from this area goes to a hospital outside of herdistrict, a hospital that is more than likely wealthier and cleaner, she isusually turned away and told to go to a hospital in her own district.
Others,who are admitted into these hospitals, are put on a special floor, mainly forthe lower income or Medicaid patients. (Amazing Grace, p. 176)Another way the government discriminates against them is how they arehoused. Most of the residents are living in government housing where thegovernment pays their rent. When the government helped the people to get offthe streets and out of homeless shelters and then put them into low cost housing,they put all of the residents in the same area.
This created their ghetto andkept them segregated from the rest of the world.Level of InterventionIf we look at these people through an exosystem, or “a setting in whicha person does not participate but in which significant decisions are madeaffecting the person or others who interact directly with the person,” we wouldask the questions “are decisions made with the interests of the person and thefamily in mind?” (Social Work and Social Welfare, p.79) Did the governmentreally think of the people of the South Bronx when they grouped all of the sick,troublesome, and low income families together in the same community? What kindof opportunity structure can people have when the government puts them intonever ending situations such as giving them only enough money to get by, but notenough to get out of poverty? Some people say that it is not the government’sresponsibility to get people out of poverty, but then whose fault is it thatthey got there in the first place? No one asks to be poor, no one asks to behomeless.
Cultural differences are an excuse some use for treating people ofdifferent backgrounds differently. But can the government also participate inthis obvious form of racism? Our nation has tried for many many years now tostop racism and prejudices, but the problem is still prevalent in communitiesall over the world.We could also look at the people and their problems using a macrosystem,or the “blueprints’ for defining and organizing the institutional life of thesociety,” (Social Work and Social Welfare, p.79) to decide if some groups arevalued at the expense of others and do these groups experience oppression? Aswe have seen, the people of the South Bronx feel abandoned, this is a type ofoppression. They are pushed away from the rest of society, where the only placethey can turn is to this community that is filled with crime, violence, disease,and poverty. The residents have shared assumptions about what the governmentwants and expects from them. The government’s attitude towards these people issuch that the residents feel devalued and not worthy of being seen or heard.Without much hope of financial stability, many have turned to selling and/orusing drugs.
Selling drugs is seen as an easy way of making some money, andusing drugs keeps a person on a high so they do not have to face reality. Thisjust continues the cycle of problems they face since selling drugs to otherskeeps those others high, and staying on a drug induced high only prolongs theproblems.Discussion and RecommendationsBecause of all the trials and tribulations they go through, you wouldthink that everyone in this community would lose hope. This is not true formany of the children that Jonathan Kozol talked to and became friends with onhis many journeys into their neighborhood.
The children speak of their problemswith great maturity. Many of these children are far older than their years onEarth, for they have felt true abandonment by our nation. Many of the issuesthey have had to deal with are not ones which we think of as children’s issues.AIDS, for example, is not something that many think of as an issue that childrentalk about or even think about. For the children of the South Bronx though, itis a major issue. With “one-fourth of the child-bearing women in theneighborhoods where these children live testing positive for HIV,” (AmazingGrace, inside cover) pediatric AIDS takes a high toll. The numbers of childrenwho have had one or both parents die of AIDS in the South Bronx and surroundingareas is the highest among the nation.
If the government keeps sending the lowincome and troublesome families into these neighborhoods, “it is likely thatentire blocks will soon be home to mourning orphans, many of whom will followtheir own parents to an early grave.” (Amazing Grace, p. 194)The government’s placement of a waste burner in the South Bronx isanother prime example and a reason why the children feel like they are being “thrown away.
” Many residents believe that the waste burner is to blame fortheir health problems. Many children in the community are only able to breathewith the use of a breathing machine because their asthma has gotten sobad.(Amazing Grace, p. 170) Why then would the city decide to put one there?Did the city have the residents in mind when they built the waste burner in thiscommunity? The residents do not have much of a say in city, state orgovernmental issues. Positions in government are held by wealthier and morepowerful people who more then likely have no first hand knowledge of life in alow income ghetto. How can we change this?To change a whole community involves much more then direct practice withindividuals. Counseling people on an individual basis gives individual responses.The problems of the South Bronx are not with the individuals themselves, butrather community organizational problems.
Changing the social policy of thecommunity is of utter importance in making it a better place to live. The normsfor the people in these neighborhoods have gotten to be that of violence anddrugs. These are not healthy norms. To change them, the communities could usemore education on social issues in the schools and communities to help thepeople learn to live healthier lifestyles, to get the word out that violence anddisruptance are not all right, and to help the people obtain some communityunity. Getting some of the well known community members involved in politics isanother way they could get their voices heard and let the government know theirneeds and desires.
Support groups held for people with AIDS, for people whohave lost loved ones, and also for people who just need a place to talk abouttheir emotions and get their frustrations out, would help the community as awhole and get more people involved in the healing process of that community. Ifthe people in the South Bronx would act as a community bound together to helpthemselves and each other, there would be less tolerance for deviant behavioramong it’s members. Then the ones who act defiantly could be out-numbered, andthe good citizens of the South Bronx could reclaim their homes and their lives.